Plunder Squad by Richard Stark 1972

Richard Stark, one of several names name used by Donald Westlake, wrote 24 novels featuring the hard-nosed, often violent and cold-blooded crook, Parker. We never do learn Parker’s first name.  Westlake, one of only three writers to win an Edgar Award in three categories, was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1993.  He wrote hundreds of short stories and novels under a variety of names, though Richard Stark was his most well known and honored.

This is the eleventh Parker book that I’ve read, and I have always thoroughly enjoyed rooting for this bad guy.  Parker is incredibly focused, and  he usually dreams up a clever and well-thought out caper though he’s willing to use violence including murder if things so south, and they usually do.  This book is a fine example of Stark’s skill beginning on page one with an attempt by a former partner to murder Parker and ending on the final page with Parker walking away from a completely screwed up caper, alive (unlike the four mobsters who tried to kill him) and still ready to try the next one.  The book is tightly written and filled with believable and interesting bad guys.  The plot turns around the heist of 21 valuable paintings on a national tour.  Parker puts together his usual gang of specialists to help him—a hippie, a semi-trailer truck driver, and two gun men—-and tricks (a fake auto accident, two of his cronies dressed up in state police uniforms after stealing a patrol car, etc) in this heist motivated by his need for cash.  The plan is brilliant and the heist is successful though everything turns to shit after they steal the paintings.  The plan doesn’t work but it’s a great story.

I’m looking forward to reading more Parker.  Like Stark/Westlake who took a 23 year break from Parker between 1974 and 1997, I hadn’t read one of the Parker books for 2 years.  It was good to be back with this estimable bad guy.